14 June 2016

Arabian Scops owl at Al Mehfar Park - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Al Mehfar Park area of Tanoumah, I heard a number of Arabian Scops Owls calling just after dark. A minimum of six birds were calling in a relatively small area suggesting the species is common in the correct mountain habitat. I managed to see one bird hunting in a relatively open position for a few minutes and took a few photos of the bird with my camera and flash. In 2008 work by Keonig (Keonig, C., Weick, F. & Becking, J.-H. 2008. Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World, 2nd edn. London: Christopher Helm) concluded that Arabian Scops Owl Otus (senegalensis) pamelae was a distinct species from African Scops Owl O. s. senegalensis. Recent work by Pons et al (Jean-Marc Pons, Guy M. Kirwan, Richard F. Porter & Jerome Fuchs (2013). A reappraisal of the systematic affinities of Socotran, Arabian and East African scops owls (Otus, Strigidae) using a combination of molecular, biometric and acoustic data. Ibis (2013)), has also shown Otus senegalensis pamelae, represents a very distinct lineage and is well differentiated phylogenetically, morphologically and vocally from O. s. senegalensis. As a result it has been recommended that elevating it to species status, as Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae is warranted. The main reasons for this are this southern Arabian taxon is highly divergent from African senegalensis (uncorrected-p mitochondrial genetic distance = 4%). The song of pamelae is very different from that of Eurasian Scops Owl O. scops and Pallid Scops Owl O. brucei but more similar to that of African Scops Owl O. senegalensis. It nevertheless differs from the latter’s song in being higher pitched, sounding ‘scratchier’ and having more prolonged notes; the song sounds two-parted, due to the much quieter first note.  In terms of biometrics, results clearly suggest that pamelae is longer winged and longer legged than mainland African populations of senegalensis. In comparison with populations of O. senegalensis in continental Africa, Arabian pamelae is distinguished by being paler overall, with less distinct streaking over the underparts and a less obvious whitish line on the scapulars (Keonig et al. 2008). Arabian Scops Owls possess several diagnostic genetic and phenotypic characters and it is therefore consider the most appropriate taxonomic treatment is to recognize Arabian Scops Owl as a species Otus pamelae, and not as a subspecies of O. senegalensis as it was originally described based solely on morphological data. This change means that Arabian Scops Owl becomes an Arabian endemic, found in South-west Saudi Arabia, South-west Yemen and north-east to southern Oman and African Scops Owl Otus senegalensis is now no longer found in Arabia but instead occurs in parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea & Somalia.